Phyllis Scott is a force. She conveys warmth and love as easily as she does strength and toughness. Phyllis has raised 11 children in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore. She laughs as she lists them: “Oh, come on now. Lizzie, let’s hope I don’t forget anyone.”
Phyllis goes down the list, starting with the oldest: “Nakeya, Stephen, Tyrek, Merkez, Phillip, Cordedra, Jamaal, Malcolm, Jaytrell, and Kenjua.”
“You forgot someone,” I tease. She checks my list. “Ha! Chaquan!” she yells upstairs to her daughter to whom she had introduced to me earlier, “I forgot you, Chaquan.” Chaquan is second to last for the record.
“Giving birth to 11 children does not make the loss of one any easier to bear,” Phyllis laments. Two of Phyllis’ 11 children, Phillip and Jaytrelle, have been shot and injured. Her eighth child, Malcolm (also known as ‘Rod’), was murdered when he was 19 in the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland. He was just months from being released for a drug conviction. Phyllis will be the first to admit that Rod wasn’t an easy child, but he was her child and she loved him “more than life itself.” Phyllis smiles “everyone loved Rod and Rod loved everyone back.” She explained that he had a learning disability and struggled in school.
Unlike most stories on this site, Malcolm was not shot…he was bludgeoned to death. His death brought her into the fold of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters.
Phyllis attends all the MOMS events and usually with her grandson, Dementez, whom she has been raising since infanthood. ‘Monnie’, as she calls him, shares his grandmother’s warmth and spirit. When we have joint MOMS and Marylanders events, Monnie and Phyllis are always the first two there to help set up.
Monnie is away for a few weeks visiting family members when Jen and I go to Phyllis’ home, but Phyllis’s youngest son, Kenjura is there while we are chatting. I ask Phyllis if she worries about Kenjura, whom everyone calls ‘Boosie’. “He’s a good boy. He just graduated from high school at seventeen,” she says with pride. “He’s never given me a moment of trouble. But yes, I worry. I worry about the boys in a different way from the girls. The boys don’t have to be doing anything and they’ll be targeted.”
Phyllis knows this all too well. Phillip was shot in the neck in 2005 and survived. Jaytrelle, shot in 2013, also survived but lost a kidney and part of his liver. Boosie ran to his brother’s aid and helped stem the flow of blood until the ambulance arrived.Nine of her eleven kids have survived, so far, the streets of Baltimore. All know many others who haven't. Meet Phyllis & Go #BehindTheStatisticsClick To Tweet
Gun violence is a given in these communities. Having one loved member killed or injured by violence is hard enough, but it is all too common in Baltimore. We have met too many families that have similarly tragic tales. These stories are too often encased in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods where they occur.
Jen suggests we go to Middle Branch Park to take the photo. I ask Boosie if he wants to join us. I expect him to respond as most seventeen-year old boys would, a polite refusal at best. But Boosie says he wants to go. I walk with Phyllis down to the edge of water. This view of The Harbor is one that tourists rarely see. This isn’t the Inner Harbor with The National Aquarium, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and large chain restaurants. This side of The Harbor, called Cherry Hill, is home to army-barrack-styled public housing buildings, a methadone clinic, a landfill and a garbage-incinerating plant – but no grocery store.
The four of us gaze at the Baltimore skyline. It is a beautiful and inspiring sight, one that fills you with optimism and hope. Cherry Hill suffers like too many neighborhoods in Baltimore from systemic poverty, lack of quality transportation, and few employment opportunities. It’s a forgotten neighborhood by leaders in our city and state, but it has enormous potential. I see the same potential in Boosie. I ask Phyllis if she has ever considered leaving Baltimore. “No,” she snaps. “I will stand up for my home city. You have to stand up for your own city.”
Boosie knows he wants to leave Baltimore. “There is nothing for me here,” he says. I ask him if he knows anyone other than his two brothers who have been shot. Boosie smiles at my naiveté, “You know I live in the ‘hood.” I stammer and he saves me from my embarrassment. “It’s okay,” he says. “Yeah, I know people… two of my friends have been shot dead.”
Boosie has promised his grandmother that he will be the one to break the cycle. Jen asks him if he has applied for any jobs. Boosie notes that the local bus service, the only public transportation in his community, has been suspended for the next two months as Baltimore works on improving the system. This makes it difficult for him to get to the job training center downtown. There are no jobs in his neighborhood.
Jen asks if he has considered applying to college or community college. He gives her a puzzled look, “I don’t think there is any way I could afford that.” She explains that government aid exists. That night Jen returns home to scour the internet to find a nursing and an EMT program at Baltimore Community College. Either of these would be a great fit for Boosie. This bright, kind, and determined kid has all the characteristics that would secure success outside of Cherry Hill, but this is what gun violence does. It isn’t just about loss of life. It’s about the destruction of communities and loss of hope.
Phyllis still holds onto hope and will fight every day to make sure that Boosie and Monnie do as well.
Malcolm “Rod” Jerrod Kenti Pidget, 1993-2012
Written by Liz Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence